When I was a teenager I read Victorian gothic young adult books from sun up to sun down. I simply could not get enough of that genre. As I entered university, my tastes changed and I switched to more “grown up” British Literature but a part of me always yearned for the thrill of the gothic tale. Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe are two of my favorite writers because of their dark, macabre imagination. It comes as no surprise, then, that I have fallen in love with Laura Purcell’s writing. Last year, The Silent Companions, took readers by a storm and now she has given us a new intriguing gothic noir tale, The Poison Thread.
At first glance, this appeared to be an ordinary Victorian book about a young socialite, the daughter of a wealthy nobleman, with far too much time on her hands yet no interest in the usual coquetries of society. She was studying phrenology, a popular belief at the time that the skull could predict behavior and be re-shaped to alter such. Although we may sneer at this now, it was the precursor of modern behavioral science. As part of her “studies” and her desire for good works, also a very Victorian endeavor, she visits women in jail, listens to the woes of their crimes and examines their skulls. But one prisoner is unlike the rest: Ruth. This woman weaves a sinister tale about poison, and sewing and garments that can harm their owners. Is she mad? Does she belong is an institution or is she simply playing at being crazy in order to escape hanging? How can one know for sure.
Purcell alternates the chapters between the two women, the present and the past, and as she does so we, the reader, become as entwined into the threads of the story as the victims of Ruth’s garments became ensnared in hers. From the moment I began reading there was no stopping. I had to know how it ended and now, weeks after I finished, I cannot stop thinking about Ruth and her needles, her life and that of those around her. Purcell does an amazing job of bring to life Victorian England – the horrors, the poverty, the wretchedness of the poor, those in debt and, in contrast, those with money and their fineries. She also hints at the problems during this time between those who remained Catholic versus those who, of course, chose the Church of England. It was a strange and misguided time in England’s history – the age of coming knowledge combined with the ignorance of the darkness just left behind and Purcell does an commendable job of conveying all of that in The Poison Thread. This is gothic Victorian at its best and I highly recommend it for those who like this era, horror, magical realism, mystery and British literature. You will find all of that within this fabulous book.
Thank you to #Edelweiss, #LauraPurcell and @PenguinPub for my copy of #ThePoisonThread